Wednesday – Mortimer Forest – The sky is partly-buffed pewter and a strong wind roars through the trees. The last of the season’s Foxgloves rise above the flowering Brambles. Wood Sage flowers in profusion on the limestone banks between the track and woods. A large thicket of Buddleia is unvisited by insects. Broom flowers have been replaced by black seed pods. Willowherbs, Common Centaury, Hawkweeds, Hogweeds and Selfheal also are in flower. Few Ringlets and a very occasional Meadow Brown flits by. Bird calls reduced to odd squeak or whistle. This summer’s great “success” story, a slug crosses track. A track climbs up to the triangulation point. To the north the Teme plain is a patchwork of green grass, golden grain and mown hay fields and dark green copses. The hills fade into the haze. Rosebay Willowherb pushes its pink flowers above the bracken. A patch of Ragwort is large enough to have persuaded a Burnet Moth to lay eggs and the yellow and black striped caterpillars are devouring the leaves. The Common Red Soldier Beetle, Rhagonycha fulva, is also on the Ragwort. Birdsfoot Trefoil flowers up here in large clumps. The final descent down to the track is unpleasant as every step slides on the damp, smooth clay. This is not helped by the worn soles on my walking shoes. Tutsan, a shrubby member of the St John’s Wort family, has yellow flowers and berries of various shades. They start green, turn red and finally purplish-black. Spits of rain are felt.
Thursday – Knighton – Off to the “town on the border” or as the Welsh name, Tref-y-clawdd translates, the town on the dyke. Knighton is a pleasant market town straddling the Welsh border and Offa’s Dyke runs through it. We leave the car park and head up the hill, Broad Street, to the clock-tower, built in 1872 and presented to the town by Thomas Moore of Old Hall. High Street climbs steeply with its collection of shops, most of which are selling “stuff” - antiques, curios, crafts etc. Few traditional shops are to be found. The buildings are a fine collection of styles covering the centuries. In Norton Street, a large block has a fine mansard roof and walls with dark brick diamonds patterning them. Nearby is the Baptist Chapel, built 1865 and beside are two modern terraced houses built using the same stone as the chapel, fitting in well. Up Russell Street to Plough Street and past The Plough public house. A house has a pair of front doors set at right angles to each other with a wooden partition separating them. Down to Offa’s Road which swings back towards the town centre again. Past a block with an alley, upon the wall of which are two metal advertising signs, Spillar’s Shapes and Winalot. Down to the church. Opposite the churchyard entrance is a splendid half-timbered building which contained Almshouses. They were built in 1881 in the Arts and Crafts style by Sir Richard Green-Price. A large lych-gate stands at the entrance with a plaque reading “Erected in memory of Richard Dansey and Clara Ann Green Price by Devoted Children 1930”. St Edward’s church is thought to be the fourth one on this site. References have been found for a Saxon church at the end of the 10th century. The base of the tower is Norman. In 1792, the Norman church was in such poor repair that it was demolished and a new church, dedicated to St Lawrence was erected. By 1877, this building was also in a ruinous state and was demolished to be replaced by the present building, dedicated to St Edward, whose architect was Pountney Smith of Shrewsbury. The War Memorial on the wall of the nave has a Pre-Raphaelite look with a panel depicting St George and the slain dragon in vivid colour. There is some typical Victorian glass but overall the church is pleasant but unmemorable. We return to the car park where the market is a single stall selling fruit and vegetables, but very popular nonetheless! On the way home, the heavens open yet again.
Friday – Wenlock Edge – Up on Wenlock Edge near the Harton Hollow Way. The journey here was somewhat undermined by my continuing experimentation with a sat-nav, which picks the most obscure and narrowest routes imaginable! Wenlock Edge is a limestone escarpment created 400 million years ago when this area was just south of the equator. The bridleway looks out across Corve Dale over a golden wheat field. Opposite the hills are wooded – Acorn, Taylor’s and Hazeldine coppices. A Yellowhammer sings and a Common Buzzard mews. It starts to rain inevitably. Maddy finds and attacks a little field mouse and I have to order her away. Pick the path through the wood. Deep hollows appear, signs of old quarrying, some small pits whilst others are deep areas with faces some 20 feet or more high. Nettle-leaved Bellflowers are pale violet delights, all facing the light at the edge of the wood. Trees feature Oak, Ash, Beech, Hawthorn, Holly (and of course, Ivy). Honey Fungus attacks a stump. Warblers and tits, hidden in the tree tops, are noisy then the reason for their distress flies off, a Common Buzzard. The path crosses a road then drops some 15 feet down steps into the Harton hollow way, an ancient track that has been eroded deep below the surrounding land. The path climbs again here showing the Wenlock Limestone underfoot and runs along the top of the ridge. The land falls away steeply to the north-west. There are plenty of signs of historic coppicing and some newer replanting. Bracken grows thickly where light can penetrate but in the shade brambles dominate. It is hard to tell when these woods were last used commercially. Many trees are less that a century old although there are some venerable old Oaks and fairly old Beeches. Many stumps are old and rotten but some have been cut in recent times. The base of a tree has a large clump of fungi – Trooping Crumble Caps or Fairies’ Bonnets Coprinus disseminatus.
From the road, the path has travelled through Burwood Coppice, Harton Wood and Flat Coppice. A legend relates the story of a local robber and bandit named Ippikin, who buried his ill-gotten gains in the vicinity of the edge. It is said that should anyone stand on the escarpment and say “Ippikin, Ippikin, keep away with your long chin” they will be pushed over the edge by the ghost of the miscreant. I sit on a fallen Silver Birch trunk which is so smooth I slide straight off the back of it, unfortunately landing painfully on another trunk end straight into my back just missing my kidney! A path to Middlehope leads off south-east whilst the Edge continues north-east. Sounds of life drift up from Ape Dale, dogs barking, cockerels crowing and a power tool. It starts to rain again. Through Newhall Coppice. The path now runs along the top of fields, some with cattle, others a sea of wheat, with Eaton Coppice dropping away to the north-west. Tall Burdocks are in flower. Nearby Enchanter’s Nightshade, Circaea luteiana stands above the leaf litter. The genus is named after the Greek enchantress, Circe, who used the plants in her spells. My back is painful and I realise I ought to head back. Maddy stands and watches the retreat in seeming amazement and has to be called to follow. Field Roses are white delicate blooms. Good numbers of Small Heath butterflies chase along the edge of a cornfield. A Jay squawks. Nuthatches are calling, then near silence.
Sunday – Leominster – The morning starts fairly brightly although there is plenty of cloud. The Sunday market is fairly small today but the new fruit and vegetable man is there so I can get supplies without recourse to the supermarket. Back home and set out to tackle an Elder bush that has grown down by the back wall. My back is still very painful so cutting the numerous stems is hard work. Then a mass of Cleavers needs to be bagged and removed – our compost bins do not get hot enough to destroy weed seeds. I also rather go over the top on thinning out a Hazel to the extent I remove all the shoots rather than leaving a main one. Oh well, it will soon sprout up again. The sky is getting darker and the air cooler and damper. It starts to rain just as I start picking crops. Some more rhubarb, several courgettes and a decent amount of French beans.
Monday – Croft – Another grey morning after heavy rain that has kept everywhere saturated. North Somerset and the Scottish Borders have seen flooding. Yesterday, an almighty thunderclap took out our telephone line. One of the great trees along the drive to the castle has fallen. Its trunk shows extensive rot. Water flows, bubbling down the Fish Pool Valley. Wood Pigeons coo, a Common Buzzard calls and Great spotted Woodpecker chips. The moisture makes the reed beds around the pools luminous. A Dipper bobs beside the stream between two of the pools. A Nuthatch calls excitedly overhead. Not surprisingly, the mosses under the Beech trees is luxuriant. An occasional blast of song from Wrens, warning ticks from Robins and Blackbirds, otherwise absolute silence reigns. It is very humid. Yellow Jelly Antler Fungus, Calocera viscosa, is abundant on a rotting log. A tall umbellifer, Angelica I think, has bobbles of pure white flowers. A Song Thrush is feeding at the top of the eastern gate entrance to Croft Ambrey. Up on the fort top, yellow Ladies Bedstraw and white Yarrow flowers amidst a cloud of delicate blue Harebells. Ringlets and Small Heaths flit from grass to flower. The Black Mountains are covered in cloud. Other hills are grey and misty. Spits of rain fall here. A Raven flies over. Down the Spanish Chestnut field. The saplings in their sturdy wooden cages are growing well. A herd of cows with calves watch as we pass the lower field. The car park has filled with visitors.
Thursday – Bodenham lake – It is an overcast but warm morning. Numerous Meadow Browns throng on thistle flowers. A few Gatekeepers join them but only single members of the blue and white families flit by. Blue damselflies are also around in good numbers. Green, unripe Blackberries hang in huge bunches. A few have turned deep purple-black but are still very sour to the taste. The lake is quiet. A small area of the scrape is now exposed. Mallard are present in decent numbers but there are only a few Tufted Duck and the usual Mute Swans. Half a dozen Cormorants stand on the pontoon. Dozens, possibly hundreds of bees are feeding on the swathes of Black Knapweeds, Ragwort and St John’s Wort in front of the hide. Back in the orchards we try one of the apples, an Irish Peach I think. The flavour is good but they are very small.
Wednesday – Herefordshire Churches – Chris and Penny are visiting for a few days so we do a quick tour of some local ecclesiastical sites. We start off at the wonderful little church of St Damian and St Cosmos at Stretford. It is a wet morning and the church stands in the intense lushness that characterises this year of rain. It is very quiet both inside and outside the church. We then head down to Burghill and visit the church of St Mary the Virgin. Previously I have railed against the rebuilding and refurbishment of church in the Victorian age but one has to face the fact that a great many of these churches were in a ruinous state in the mid-nineteenth century and without major works being undertaken would simply have fallen into rubble and ruins. I like to think that today we may be a bit more sensitive to restoration rather than wholesale rebuilding, but better a usable, intact church than a few stones or even complete removal. The marble tomb of Sir John Milbourne, his wife and their twelve children, formerly of Tillington Court has effigies of the knight and his lady bathed in light from the window. Next we head into the city of Hereford and visit the cathedral. It is now raining heavily! Inside we go through the vaulted cloister into the display area of Mappa Mundi. This is a wonderful map of the world drawn by Richard of Haldingham or Lafford, (Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire) around 1300. Drawn on a piece of vellum 64 by 52 inches, it takes some deciphering as whilst the relative positions of the then-known world are more or less correct, the map is centred on Jerusalem and, naturally the Middle East and Mediterranean dominates the map. Nearby is a 1217 edition of Magna Carta, the agreement between King John and the barons signed at Runnymede in 1215. It forms the basis for English law. This copy is the revision issued by Henry III, of which only four copies have survived. Here also is a splendid chained library containing 229 mediaeval manuscripts, all chained to their bookcases for security. Back in the main body of the cathedral a service is under way in the north transept. The air is filled with frankincense.
Thursday – Hoarwithy – Chris is keen to see the church in Hoarwithy, a small village north of Ross-on-Wye, and it is easy to see why. Standing on the hill above the village, which is close to the River Wye, is an extraordinary building in the South Italian Renaissance and semi-Byzantine style. A chapel dedicated to St Catherine was built by Revd Thomas Hutchinson in 1840. In 1854, Prebendary William Poole was appointed vicar of the parish of Hentland and he asked his friend John Pollard Seddon to beautify the chapel. Seddon enclosed the brick building in red sandstone, added a campanile through which visitors pass into an open cloister of Norman arches and a Italian mosaic pavement leading to a wooden door with scrolled metal fittings in a Norman arch door frame with carvings in the early Hereford style. Inside is a heavily decorated roof by George Fox but plain white walls. In the sanctuary are hanging lamps copied from those in St Mark’s, Venice. Sadly, these have been damaged by a thief who stole them in 1974. The sanctuary stalls are carved oak by Harry Hems of Exeter depicting the saints Weonard, David, Cynog and Tysilio. Panels depict scenes from the life of St Dubricius. Four pillars of French and Cornish marble on green marble bases support a domed apse which has a mosaic of Christ, the Pantokrator, on a gold background, once believed to have been installed by Italian workmen from St Paul’s Cathedral. However, research has shown that the London based firm of James Powell and Sons did the work. The designer was Ada Currey, born in 1852 and was employed by Powell from 1890 to 1901. The altar is in white marble inlaid with lapis lazuli and tiger-eye. The pulpit is also in white marble with green marble and porphyry inlay. The glass is of the highest quality. Five windows in the apse were made by H.G. Murray of London whilst another window depicting the “Angel of Doom” is by Burne-Jones and Morris. Two lights to the north representing Judah and Levi look very much like Burne-Jones but are not attributed. The cloister overlooks a valley beyond a graveyard. Another graveyard, still in use, is high to the hill above the north side of the church.
Friday – Bodenham Lake – The poor weather continues. This morning has been punctuated by showers, there is a strong wind gusting and it is warm and humid. Flowers are coming to the end of their season and are looking tired with many in seed. Bird song is also sporadic. Swifts left about a week ago. It always seems hard to pinpoint the actual time of departure – one simply notices their absence. The dessert apples in the orchard are a sorry lot; most are small and the couple I try have a thin flavour. Pears hang a rich russet red but are hard as bullets. Maddy seems delighted to be out with her ball, regardless of the weather. She has been left behind for the last two day’s trips! We arrive home to a cloud-burst and I am soaked in just a hundred yards or so returning up the street.
Wednesday – Hergest Ridge – Ken and Brigid are here for a few days so off to the ridge. The sun rose this morning over Eaton Hill in blinding light but now it is back to grey. We set off up the ridge with Maddy trying out different people to see who is most amenable to kicking her ball. Ravens bark from over the south side and a Common Buzzard, probably the cause of the corvids’ excitement, slips away down the hill. Swallows sweep low over the path and gorse. We can see mist and cloud moving in from Wales. As usual, the heights of the Radnor Forest are shrouded in cloud. The occasional Skylark floats over the scrub, singing intermittent blasts of its summer song. The rain starts as we reach the stand of Monkey Puzzle trees and continues as we head over to the Whet Stone. Back along the race course and back down the hill, getting progressively wetter.
Friday – Wigmore – Along the path that runs beside the church of St James. Some Norman herring bone stonework can be seen on the eastern gable end. The old school stands beyond the western end of the church with its bell housing on the gable and another bell over the entrance. Chickens chuck gently from the garden. The track ends and a path continues on through a steeply sloping meadow of Yarrow, Knapweed and Harebells. The path rises and ahead the teeth of stone of a ruined rises above the trees. Wigmore Castle, the Mortimer seat of power from around 1075 until the death of the last male heir in 1424. The castle mound rises steeply through wild areas of nettles, Cranesbills in carpets of geranium leaves, St John’s Wort, Burdock, Mallows, thistles and a new flower to me, Ploughman’s Spikenard. A flock of Goldfinches twitters excitedly. Blue Tits and Whitethroats search the tall fronds of umbellifers for insects. A path from the foot of the castle heads north through a wood onto a small common above Gotherment and Abbey Court Farm. Another path heads up into Lawn Bank Coppice. The hills rise in the east beyond Wigmore Marsh – Croft Ambrey, Gatley Long Coppice and High Vinnalls on the Mortimer Forest. A single Burnet moth caterpillar feeds on ragwort. A large slug lays on the dew drenched grass.
Through a locally made gate, probably many years old but now falling apart through lack of maintenance. The trees here have been coppiced maybe twenty years ago and now have up to ten trunks and many more shoots. Into a clearing, an old quarry? Rosebay Willowherb stands six or seven feet tall, rising to reach the light above bramble thickets. A Blackcap ticks. The track winds its way along the foot of the steep ridge, although actually some height above the expanse of wheat fields and road. Pale pink and white Wood Vetch, Hemp Agrimony, Angelica (covered in bees, hover flies and flies), Meadow Sweet and others flower on the edge of the track. A Copse Snail, Arianta arbustorum, with a long black neck and head, works its way up a vetch. A Common Buzzard flies out of the woods and sails across the fields. Some trouble has been taken to create this track which lies on a shelf some twenty foot across cut into the hillside, now crossing a deep dell. A forestry track leads off west into Wigmore Rolls. The conifer woods are dense and dark. They are suddenly replaced by Oaks. It starts to rain. The flowers are forever changing. Near the conifer woods, one side of the track is marshy, so Centaury grows profusely; the other side is dry and heather dominates. Now Devil’s Bit Scabious grows on the margin. Another ill-defined, track leads off south and is probably the one that goes across the Rolls, but I decide I am not yet back to a level of fitness which would allow a long meander and risk of getting lost, so it is back the way we came. On the way back even more species of flora are spotted; nearly all of them familiar to some degree but I am unable to name them, particularly the varieties of St John’s Wort and the Dandelion-like Daisy family members such as Hawksbeards, Hawkbits and Ox-tongues. The mewing of Common Buzzards and cronking of Ravens are a constant accompaniment. I pick a near perfect blackberry, just the right balance of sweetness and sharpness. A golden field below has been harvested and large oblong bales of straw await removal. Back under the walls of the castle, a Small Heath is the first butterfly I have seen today.
Tuesday – Stourport-on-Severn – This bustling town is here solely because of the canal system. A tiny hamlet called Mitton near the River Severn existed here until 1771 when James Brindley’s Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal arrived to join the Trent and Mersey Canal to the River Severn. By 1812 five basins had been built along with brass and iron foundries, a vinegar works, tan yards, worsted spinning mills, carpet mills, barge and boat building yards, warehouses, shops, houses and inns. In 1795 the population stood at 1300. We park beside a large park that stands on the River Severn. The park contains an excellent play area for children which on one of the few sunny days of summer is very busy. The first bridge over the Severn was built by the canal company in 1775. This was swept away in a flood. The second bridge was completed in 1806 and a third and current bridge in 1870 at a cost of £10,000. It became toll-free in 1893. A fine spiral staircase rises to the road but we pass under the bridge and past a fairground. Beyond is the lock between the canal and river and the start of the basins. Above the lock is the Tontine Hotel, once the Stourport Inn and Areley Inn, now apartments. (A Tontine was an early form of life insurance whereby only the last surviving member in a group of people who had taken out a policy would get the payout!) Nearby are the stables now cottages and a restaurant. Past the stables lies the main basins. The Upper and Clock Basins are a large marina for canal boats. Lichfield Basin lies the other side of a bridge and is now surrounded by apartments built by Barretts and looking like it! Many of the large warehouses still stand although having different uses these days. The chandlers is in Mart Street where the market existed until 1833. It is a lovely old building with a large frieze reading, “London and North-West Railway – Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company”. A row of cottages was built by the canal company and are now declared as ancient monuments of special interest. We head for the High Street which has a fine butchers and a few other general shops but far too many charity shops. We cross back over the canal to Villeneuve-Roi Gardens, a small garden beside a busy road junction, named after Stourport’s twin town. Everywhere there are good quality Georgian houses and, apart from some modern monstrosities, few other periods, the result of the town being developed so quickly. We return to the butchers for a pork pie and head back down to the river.
Thursday – Bodenham Lake – After a day and night of rain, sunshine returns. Arrival at the lake is greeted by a Green Woodpecker laughing in the trees. Himalayan Balsam is in bloom. A beautiful dragonfly, the Southern Hawker or Blue Darner, Aeshna cyanea lands on a Hawthorn twig. Hips and Haws ripening to vermilion and scarlet. Canada Geese and eight Barnacle Geese, which are either laying down or standing on one leg, preening on scrape. Eighteen Cormorants are either on the pontoons or in the trees. Also present are six Mute Swans – all adults indicative of a poor breeding season; several Tufted Duck, Coot and surprisingly few Mallard. Purple Loosestrife is still in flower in the water margins but the carpet of flowers in front of the hide have nearly all gone to seed. Swallows and martins are absent. Red Bartsia flowers beside the path. A wistful and brief Willow Warbler song seems to mark the imminent end of what, this year, has been euphemistically called summer. A Dunnock song is a little stronger but still not the full-blooded spring song.
Friday – Craven Arms – From the Secret Hills Discovery Centre a path passes the Community Garden. There and on the waste ground beyond are flocks of finches, mainly Goldfinches. It occurs to me that I automatically called this area “waste” which from a wildlife point of view it is anything but a waste! House Sparrows call nearby and a Robin watches from a bough from an adjoining garden. Across the River Onney via a lovely old iron footbridge and out on fields. A small wooden bridge crosses a drainage stream which passes though a six foot plus deep ditch. Vermilion Wild Arum berries gleam in the shade. Up a field. Tail down, Maddy slinks past a herd of cattle who just stare. Through a farmyard into the hamlet of Whettleton and down a lane to the deep sunken track to Nortoncamp Wood. The cries of Common Buzzards greet us. As we enter the wood, a buzzard has moved out across the fields, but I cannot locate it despite the constant mewing. Below is Craven Arms and the village and church at Halford. The bright sunshine lights up glades of bracken where Foxgloves are still in flower and Blackbirds chase. The wide, dry track turns into a path of glutinous mud that climbs up and across the side of the hill. The path continues to rise through Whettleton Wood. Robins sing and Blue Tits squeak. I had taken Maddy’s ball from her down on the track because on a previous visit she had allowed it to roll under a fence and we had a merry old time retrieving it. It is interesting how much more ground she covers, sniffing and exploring, when she does not have her beloved ball, stick replacements notwithstanding. However, I return it in the woods and continue upwards.
On reaching a track I decide to consult the map and discover my glasses came out of my pocket when I pulled out Maddy’s ball. So back down to the spot where they lay beside the path. The track runs around Norton Camp, an Iron Age hill-fort. As the path swings south, a view opens up across a wheat field of the Clee hills, the distant Malverns and Bringewood. The track comes to a fine farmhouse, Nortoncamp, and then onto the large circular camp itself. The centre of which is now a reservoir. A Common Buzzard and Raven are above at a considerable height. Round the perimeter of the camp and back to the track. A Nuthatch calls as the track starts to descend. Common Buzzards continue to call over towards Craven Arms. The woods are a mixture of Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Beech, Ash with the occasional conifer and smaller trees such as Elder, Holly, Lime and Rhododendron. Stokesay castle is in view below, basking in the sun. A track drops down through an area that was being felled last time I was here. Plastic sheaths protect new saplings. The track emerges at the top of sunken track-way. Back down on the road I decide to take a path that leads over to the far edge of the Discovery Centre land, however the stile has disappeared under brambles, the gate locked and the public footpath has been completely covered with a maize crop. It is disappointing that a path connected to a site that is supposed to promote country walking is completely unusable! So back past Whettleton and down to the Onney. House Sparrows and Blackbirds are flitting across the river from gardens to the wooded edge of the fields.